Banana bunchy top disease (BBTD)

Commonly referred to as Bunchy top, BBTD is the most devastating viral disease of bananas and caused by the Banana bunchy top virus (BBTV) . Infected plants become stunted resulting in 100% yield loss. Bunchy top occurs in Australia, is widespread in Asia and is moving aggressively through Africa.  At the present time, BBTV is having the greatest impact on the production of Cavendish in southern African countries such as Malawi and Zambia where the crop is used as a cash crop for small holder farmers.  The relatively recent expansion of BBTV into Nigeria in plantains poses a major threat to this core staple food in West Africa. BBTV is also perilously close to Uganda where their staple food, the cooking bananas known as East African Highland bananas, is known to be very susceptible to the virus.

With funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, QUT scientists in collaboration with researchers from Malawi and Kenya have been working to develop Cavendish bananas with resistance to BBTV.  The initial strategy was based on genetic modification and large numbers of transgenic banana lines were generated for field trialling in Malawi.  This three year field trial recently concluded and several banana lines with significantly reduced infection rates were identified.  The team is currently focussing on the use of gene editing technologies to develop bananas with greater levels of resistance.